- 22 Aug 19
Long Sought-After Live Set From The Qawwali Master
Beloved by the likes of Jeff Buckley, who once claimed that the music had “saved his life”, and Eddie Vedder – do yourself a favour and seek out their collaborations on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack if you haven’t already – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the king of the Qawwali singers, the Islamic devotional music known as Sufi (defined as the “inward dimension of Islam”), was an unknown quality to most Western audiences in the 80s.
His 1985 set at the WOMAD festival has always been spoken of reverentially by devotees and now, to celebrate the Real World Records label’s thirtieth anniversary, those who weren’t there can finally hear it. The music is extraordinary and one can only wonder at the effect it had on the Fall and New Order fans who may have curiously wandered into the midnight show. The band - such as they are - consist of harmoniums and tablas, and there are other vocals and hand claps, but at the centre of it all is Ali Khan’s voice. His range is other-worldly and when you read gushing descriptions of him as one of the greatest singers who ever lived, you are inclined to agree.
Ali Khan doesn’t turn up until a few minutes into the opening ‘Allah Ho Allah Ho’ but once he arrives, it is revelatory. Across ‘Haq Ali Ali’ twenty-five minutes, and the closing ‘Shahbaaz Qalandar’ and ‘Biba Sada Dil Mor De’ the power of Ali Khan's voice stirs something in the inexplicable part of your being. I don’t pretend to know what he is singing about, but then I don’t really understand The Gloaming’s lyrics either. It doesn’t stop their music getting through because it aims beyond the language centre of the brain. This is soul music, and it is very highly recommended.
While you're at it, Real World are also re-releasing Night Song, Ali Khan's remarkable 1996 collaboration with Canadian guitar tinkerer Michael Brook. Brook might be familiar to some readers from the work he did on the 1986 soundtrack to the movie Captive with local man The Edge. It's is Brook's infinite guitar invention that you hear on 'With Or Without You'. The album follows on from the earlier Mustt Mustt and similarly combines Brook's relaxed and atmospheric - and almost ambient - guitar and keyboards with the master's voice. It's an ethereal triumph, a perfect late night record and reason enough to justify this venerable label's continued existence.